Is Employee’s Mental Health the Employer’s Responsibility?

Stressed Employee
This was a poll I ran on Twitter this week: As a Headhunter who often gets to speak with distressed or frustrated employees looking for change, it’s quite common to spot the tell-tale signs of stress. 
MentalHealth Survey
I find that most of the cases are due to 2 reasons:
1) lack of engagement in the workplace
2) Personal problems at home.
The problem is compounded when the affected is a local, as most often they are embarrassed to speak about the mental health issues they suffer due to fear of stigma.
A recent study led by the WHO showed that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
So, here is my question:  Is it the employer’s responsibility to take care of the employees’ mental health or not? Should this responsibility somehow extend to terminated or retired employees as well? 

A short summary of the recently announced Emiratisation measures

Ministry of HR Press Announcement

A year after the Ministry of Labour had its name changed to the ‘Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratisation’ (MOHRE); the Ministry came out last week announcing a series of new initiatives it is rolling out to drive Emiratisation in the country, and from the looks of it, the MOHRE has its sight on the private sector. The MOHRE took this opportunity to also share what it has observed as some of the critical challenges and realities surrounding the current state of Emiratisation. There’s so much of information spread out across the Arabic and English publications that I thought it would be helpful for employers if I shared here a summary of what I think should matter to you as an employer.

So, let’s start with what I believe is the most important announcement:

  • Say bye, bye to the Qouta system and prepare for a shift to the ‘Points System’: Well, not just entirely yet for now. The ‘Quota system’ has been for so long the target of much criticism by employers. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve been asked my opinion on the quota system, and each time I’ve dissapointed many with my response, that as a short-term solution, the quota is a “necessary evil” or a “safety pin” until we resolve the other fundamental challenges such as the education system, attitudes of Emirati jobseekers to working in the private sector, etc. The MOHRE is now ‘piloting’ a Points System across a select number of companies. The ‘Points System’ basically aims to not only measure success of Emiratisation solely on the number of Emiratis a company hires, but rather on a variety of other achievements such as the training initiatives the employer offers Emirati employees, the efforts the employer demonstrates in hiring nationals in management and specialist roles (business critical roles), the work environment and the company’s demonstrated leadership commitment to Emiratisation. From what I gather, the employers selected to be part of this ‘pilot’ will automatically become members of an ‘Emiratisation Partners Club’ and will be categorised as a ‘Platinum, Gold and Silver’ member according to each employer’s performance according to the new points system. I expect most of you are eager to get an answer to that burning question: “Are there any incentives offered to employers adopting this system and what are they”? I don’t have an answer to that quite frankly, but all I will say is “watch this space”.
  • No New Employment Visas will be issued to employers unless they can show that there are no qualified Emiratis who qualify for the role: This obviously applies on companies that qualify for the Quota system or the new Points System. To show how serious the Ministry is, the senior officials of the Ministry have been working on linking the process of issuing visas with the current database of jobseekers with the Ministry.
  • The Ministry has set a definition of who is considered according to its system a ‘Jobseeker’ and accordingly will be given priority in the system: This most probably means that only Emiratis who fit the definition will be accounted for according to the Ministry’s system. The Ministry has set 11 criteria defining an Emirati ‘Jobseeker’ who will be provided priority support by the system. I won’t get in to all of the criteria, but it excludes for example Emiratis who are retired, business owners and Emiratis who are still employed.
  • Finally, Jobseekers will be classified according to their “seriousness” in seeking employment: I have to confess, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’ve seen my fair share – it looks like the Ministry also has seen its fair share too – of jobseekers who are either not serious about finding a job, extremely fussy or just don’t know what they want. However, I also know that the phenomenon of ‘passive talent’ is a common characteristic among jobseekers across the world and particularly ‘millenials’. I feel we need to be able to differentiate the two from each other rather than throw them in one category and find creative ways to engage ‘passive talent’.
  • The Case of ‘Non-Active’ Emirati Jobseekers: The Ministry shared that out of the approximately 9200 registered jobseekers in its database, only 2700 are considered ‘Active Jobseekers’. This is quite concerning. The Ministry cited that ‘Non-Active’ Jobseekers were the ones who either failed to update their CVs for more than 90 days, failed to attend phone calls by the recruiters at the Ministry, failed to show up for interviews and basically managed to do everything that would make a recruiter cringe. Interestingly, the Ministry has come out to openly criticise Emirati jobseekers for not being active enough and rejecting job offers continuously, and has hinted that it will deal with them appropriately. This means the Ministry acknowledges the size of the challenge at hand.
  • Around 65% of employers cited that Emirati candidates lacked the language and communication skills required for the workplace
  • Women consisted approximately 82% of the registered Jobseekers: Besides the fact that Emirati women are more proactive and serious about pursuing experience and careers (I confess, we men need to pull up our socks), my experience is that there a number of cultural factors as well behind Emirati men’s lack of proactiveness in jobseeking.

What happens now?

  • Well, I believe it is high time that besides jobseekers, employers need to be proactive about setting themselves up to hire Emiratis, rather than wait to see if the current(or even future) legislations will affect them or not. There are various ways your organisation can begin to explore Emiratisation proactively. If you are interested and want to learn more and are looking for help in this area, please feel free to drop me an email at: or send me a LinkedIn message.

Is your workplace an Airport Transit Lounge? We can help.

Transit Area


Have you ever had the experience of being stuck for hours in the Transit Area of a busy airport before? Either way, I’m sure you’re not a fan of being stuck in the Transit Area of some airport especially if you’re stuck for more than a couple of hours. (Well, maybe with the exception of a comfortable and luxurious Transit Lounge).  Ever wondered why people dread being in the transit area of an airport so much?  Maybe it’s because travellers feel pressured to get to their destination as soon as they can.  Maybe it’s the awful feeling of being alone and a stranger in a busy and crowded airport.  Could it be because most people seem to be not too friendly and have created a sort of bubble around themselves? Do all these sound familiar to you?  Here’s a question for you; could your workplace be like a busy airport’s Transit Area like the one I described? Think about it for a moment.

I for one know for a fact that I have seen quite a few Transit Areas within companies.  And I am sure that many of you can relate too.   How was it working with a team member who seemed to find their comfort working in their own ‘bubble’?  How frustrating was it that a department in your company seems to only be comfortable working with “their own”?  Ever wondered why your young new joiners seem to lose all the energy they came with when they first joined and now seem to be demoralised?  Now imagine instead of being stuck in that dreadful Transit Area in the airport, you were offered to shift to a nice, comfortable and friendly Transit Lounge.

The ‘transit lounge’ mind-set was first coined by Prof. D. Muna in which he warned of the implications such a mentality has on productivity, motivation, retention and employee happiness.   The phenomenon is even more common in the GCC region due to the highly diverse workplace and the gap between expat and locals socially.

The Tranzeet (the local pronunciation of transit) Lounge is a place that reflects what I envision how the UAE workplace should look like; a busy airport’s transit lounge full of employees brought together by a clear unifying purpose, employees who feel engaged each, employees who gain an appreciation and understanding of each other’s cultural backgrounds and, most importantly, understand the culture of their local colleagues.

This is not a UAE cultural orientation service, neither is it a workshop about ‘culture’ and ‘diversity’.  It’s a platform where issues, challenges and solutions are explored together in a safe environment while participants get the opportunity to learn and work together to put together practical solutions for their workplace’s unique challenges.  The process is structured towards helping your employees go beyond perceptions and towards finding creative ways of creating a happy and productive workplace.

If you feel your company can benefit from this program, feel free to drop me an email and schedule an initial meeting to understand better how we can help

“Strangers in a new culture see only what they know.” –Unknown

Part 3: Three Ingredients for growing a successful business in the UAE

colored pencils


Success Ingredient # 2:  Stay Relevant by aligning your organisation with the market needs and the underlying Culture of the UAE: 

I recall once catching up for coffee with a successful serial entrepreneur and business coach who had founded and sold around half a dozen entrepreneurial ventures for impressive amounts of money.  Impressed by what he had achieved, I was curious to understand what really his secret to success was and so I asked him.  ‘Alignment’ he answered confidently.  He went on to elaborate to me his answer and explained that to him he always believed that a sustainable business strategy can only be realized through aligning a) What will your customers buy; with b) What are you producing or offering.

As obvious as this might sound, I can say that this simple strategy is often ignored by most business leaders and entrepreneurs who are too immersed and emotionally involved with their products and services.  I see it all too often, international companies who enter the market with their existing products and services with little or no research to validate the market need for what they aim to sell or promote in the country. I find it rather naïve to assume a simplistic and a rather condescending notion that “just because it works where we come from, it should work here in the UAE”.  Yet, many businesses set up in the country believing in the same notion.  As a result many of them fall victim to the ‘pipe dream’ of conquering the UAE market with little or no effort invested in understanding the market and adapting accordingly.

I often advise clients to look at aligning four components as part of their business strategy when entering the UAE market, these are: (1) Their products, services and business strategy (2) The market and consumer needs in the UAE (3) The employees their hire in the UAE and their human capital practices (4) Finally, The underlying values, beliefs and interests –otherwise known as culture- of their customer segment in the UAE in addition to the overall government’s direction and strategy.  The government’s strategy –usually announced or found with the various government departments- provides a highly useful indication to where the country is headed to, what sectors are targeted to play a key role in the country’s present and future, the existing opportunities as well as possibly a gist of government legislation to come.

Wasta, taming the elephant in the room to work for you


Most of the people who have settled in the region are familiar with the term ‘Wasta’.  Wasta literally translates to; a mean or instrument used to help an individual or a group reach a desired position, or attain something.  It can also mean to gain leverage or influence on an issue.  The ‘Wasta’ is most often an individual with the required connections or ability to influence a decision or decision maker.

So much has been said about the ‘Wasta’ phenomenon – privately, yet so little has been written about it.  The term has gained notoriety to some as it is usually associated with the attainment of unfair advantage to win something regardless of the merit or qualification of the party attaining the advantage.

Obviously, not anyone can have or become a ‘Wasta’.  The prerequisites one would need to have in order to qualify for a ‘Wasta’ are; be known as an individual who is trustworthy, reliable, has strong knowledge of the local community’s culture and be well-connected to people of influence.  With this in mind, ‘Wasta’ can be viewed in a more positive light by its advocates.  Its personal nature makes it a less-risky and ideal means of influence in a tight-knit and -to a good degree- reserved community.  A community that puts high regard on personal relationships and trust when taking decisions. These decisions can range from the selection of a spouse, decisions on employment and senior level appointments all the way to business relations.

Businesses can tap in to the power of ‘Wasta’ to help identify opportunities, promote their strengths and services directly to the right people and at the same time build valuable long term relationships.  One way to do this is to seek the right partner locally who can play the role of engaging opportunities and applying influence where needed on your behalf.

Another way that has become increasingly common and adopted mainly by a number of forward thinking multinationals is hiring and empowering the right local talent in strategic roles within the organisation.  Banks for example –local and multinational-have applied this strategy with much success.  This has helped banks demonstrate how committed they are to the local community and the government, build strong and long term relationships with local clients and even roll out products and services that are catered to the needs of their customers making them more relevant and versatile to change.